This afternoon I was thrown out of the Cambridgeshire Police Authority Scrutiny Committee meeting.
During the agenda item on restorative justice disposals Deputy Chief Constable Feavyour drew members’ attention to a document he described as the force’s restorative justice policy which he stated was in the meeting papers. Also members of the authority were referring to, and had in their meeting papers, documents describing the force’s restorative justice processes, one member I could see for example had a flow chart describing the process.
I checked, and double checked, the papers which had been provided to me and concluded these papers were omitted from the public documents pack. I had made sure the documents hadn’t been included out of sequence. All the public pack contained was a two page summary report, and I knew this was all that had been made available online prior to the meeting as I had thoroughly read all the papers which had been made available.
I indicated I wanted to say something, making clear I wasn’t seeking to enter into the debate.
The chair, Cllr Lucas, refused, but I didn’t think he understood that wasn’t seeking to enter the debate, so I decided to heckle anyway and simply made the point that the public documents pack only contained the two page covering report and not the additional documents being referred to. I hadn’t got as far as asking if this was the intent, before the meeting was suspended and I was being thrown out.
This left the meeting continuing with no members of the press or public present.
I should explain that I wasn’t disrupting a major set-piece full council meeting, or even a full meeting of the authority. This was a small committee meeting, with about six or so police authority members present (at least one had left by this point).
The kind of response I would have expected would have been for the chair to have asked for copies of the papers to be passed to me, and to order their publication online too.
I view his throwing me out, without the warnings that people to be thrown out of Cambridge City Council or Cambridgeshire County Council meetings typically get, as ludicrously disproportionate and against operating in a transparent and open manner.
I was disappointed that no authority members argued with the chair’s ruling; and none proposed a vote on my exclusion. This however is typical of police authority meetings where the chair alone often rules on, for example, discussing certain agenda items in secret session.
One particularly concerning factor was that Deputy Chief Constable Feavyour joined the chair in asking me to leave. I think this is was inappropriate as the police authority is there to oversee and scrutinise the police. I don’t think the police should play a role in determining who is able to observe and report on the meetings of the authority. The Deputy Chief Constable only added his voice a few moments later, as I was waiting to see if anyone was going to overturn the chair’s bizarre ruling.
It is not unprecedented for members of the press or public to comment on matters of fact during even full police authority meetings; though of course it would be inappropriate to allow them to enter debate.
I think that pointing out the public document pack was apparently deficient was a perfectly reasonable thing to do. If this had been at a council meeting there would typically have been council staff available to approach, but at this meeting all the staff were sitting around the meeting table so there was no other reasonable practical way to draw attention to the omission.
If the full meeting papers were not in the public documents pack, or on the website, then the police authority will have breached their own standing orders. (Correction 23:13 13/12/11 – their standing orders aren’t that good – but they do promise to publish the papers!)
At the scrutiny committee’s previous meeting the force’s policies on restorative justice had not been provided and authority members complained. The previous meeting decided to pretend they had been supplied and to publish them retrospectively along with the papers (though this didn’t happen). I had used the public speaking slot at the start of the meeting to express my view that this underhand subterfuge was inappropriate (I recall I used more moderate language).
I think it is really important that the force’s policies on restorative justice disposals are made public; I have been lobbying on this point for some time. I thought it was critically important that the police, and authority members, shouldn’t continue under the impression that they had been released via the scrutiny committee papers when they had not. I also thought that as someone trying to observe, follow along with, and report on, proceedings I ought to have had access to the papers.
The police authority tweeted about my expulsion stating:
Scrutiny Cmt: Member of Public removed for persistent heckling. Meeting Standing Orders clear on public questions. #policescrutiny #live
I responded to tweet:
RT @PACambs: Scrutiny Cmt: Member of Public removed for persistent heckling. <-That's libelous. I asked why papers missing from public pack
[My approach to libellous material being written about me is generally to quote and refute it. I note that while I wasn't identified in this tweet, I was identified in an earlier tweet from the authority.].
I also tweeted:
RT @PACambs: Scrutiny Cmt: Member of Public removed for persistent heckling. <-I simply made the point papers were missing. Politely. Once.
Possible Next Steps
- I could complain to the police authority about :
- The chair’s disproportionate action in throwing me out of the meeting
- The omission of the papers from the public pack
- I could use the public speaking slot at the next full authority meeting to draw attention to the occurrence; perhaps also connecting it with other failures of openness and transparency in the police authority’s operations.
- The police authority’s clerk (styled “Chief Executive” to justify the ~£100K/year salary) offered me the omitted papers when escorting me out. What’s important though is not that I get them, but that they’re are officially made public.
- The chair, Cllr Lucas, is a representative of the County Council, on the authority, I could raise my complaint with the County Council.
At the moment I think raising it in the public speaking slot at the next full authority meeting is the best option. I would hope for an apology at the full authority meeting, from Cllr Lucas and the authority, as well of course for the papers in question to be published.